"LOL," "ILY," and emoticons: the reinvention of grammar with technology


Does grammar become worse with technology or evolve? Does it reinvent itself through chat?

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As society changes and technology develops, grammar continuously evolves. A clear example of its transformation is seen in the historical ways it has been transmitted, from clay tablets, parchment, and paper to today's digital tablets and wireless keyboards. 

It is evident that as technology advances and society develops, linguistics becomes modified. Especially today, this trend is accelerating as the volume of writing increases and becomes faster than ever, there are no character limits in messaging, and costs per message are falling to near zero. 

A study by the University of Manizales in Colombia describes the new ways of communicating as "a phenomenon unprecedented in the history of popular communication. It is an action in which the time to read and write is minimized because it is dialogue-written in real-time."

Several of the most significant changes in grammar include incorrect use of capital letters, construction of simple sentences, lack of attention to correct spelling, and the use of abbreviations, emoticons, phonetic writing, and acronyms, among others. The changes and the breaking of grammatical rules defined by sources such as Oxford have divided people into two camps; a) the ones who defend the new grammar as normal and a consequence of the shift to the digital environment, and b) those who consider the omissions and errors as transgressive acts of writing that corrupt the language and complicate communication.

Regulating grammar

The study of the University of Manizales focused on ascertaining if the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language (RAE) "has the scope to regulate and control the grammatical modes that arise in writing by WhatsApp or, to the contrary, with the writing mediated by this technological application, is this a grammar sui generis?" (a grammar in its own right). 

The study reported that 57% of the participants said they followed the rules. Also, 76% accepted that the rules should be followed and the established grammar respected. Even so, these results contradict the fact of attacking the norms: About 43% of the respondents indicated that they do not comply with the regulations. Another 46% agreed that it is challenging to abide by grammatical rules due to the need to respond quickly to several conversations at one time. Regarding this point, the study found that speed is one of the factors that affect writing the most because it occurs at conversation velocity, and an immediate response is expected.

Grammar repercussions beyond chat

The immediacy and evolution of rapid writing have led to an apparent lack of knowledge about grammatical rules and their exceptions. Although writing occurs more frequently and faster than ever before, it seems that people have lost the knowledge about correct and incorrect grammar. 

Furthermore, there are automated tools such as predictive text that suggests the completion of words and phrases automatically and spelling checkers that highlight spelling errors and autocorrect them instantly. These technological advances help people write faster but do not support the improvement of their grammar or the understanding of grammatical rules; often these applications make errors and are not in compliance with the regulations. 

The autocorrect depends on the preset language in the device and whether or not there is a language dictionary. That is why there are occasions when the autocorrect itself makes mistakes and marks correct words as an error. Nor does it know how to distinguish between words that sound the same but are written differently, or between two words that are written the same or almost the same but have different meanings. In addition to this, the basic proofreading applications do not warn if a text is redundant or culturally insulting.

All this being said, today there is also a large amount of technological assistance that supports correct linguistics. For example, Mary Norris, the "Comma Queen" from the staff of The New Yorker, makes YouTube videos about linguistics. There are also tools like Grammarly that take a deeper dive into grammar to fix things that the basic proofreading apps might miss.

Do you use any of these resources daily? Do you usually check the spelling and grammar of your digital conversations? In addition to the tools mentioned, do you know others that are useful for learning grammar and linguistics?